Enjoy the eighth installment of Lemon Tart, a culinary mystery by Josi Kilpack. Stay tuned for next week's installment, chapters 25-27.
To read a previous installment, click here.
That’s all you have to tell me?” Detective Cunningham asked a few minutes later after she told him all about Ron—his being with Anne last night, the toys at his house, the scene at the restaurant. The tone of Detective Cunningham’s voice reminded Sadie of the questions she asked her children when she already knew the answer. She wasn’t sure how to respond.
After a few seconds of silence Detective Cunningham spoke again. “And what about the information you got from Susan Gimes?” he asked, tilting his head.
He knew about that? She said nothing out loud as he continued to stare her down. Even when he was annoyed, he was a very distinguished-looking man.
When she stayed silent, he continued. “Susan and I have worked on cases together before. She’s a good attorney, a smart woman—smart enough to tell me the truth when I asked her if you’d come by today. She can get in a lot of trouble for giving you any information.”
“She said it was okay,” Sadie explained. “That it wasn’t confidential.”
“Confidential or not, she told you information that was meant only for the police.”
“That was not my fault,” Sadie said, suddenly in a hurry to defend herself. She wondered how Susan Gimes had explained it. “If Detective Madsen hadn’t bullied her then she wouldn’t have told me anything.”
“Bullied her?” Detective Cunningham asked before flipping open his notebook and reading as if their conversation was casual.
This gave her courage to keep going. “You should have heard him. He was telling her that if he came back with a warrant he’d trash her office. She said she’d dealt with him before and couldn’t stand him.” She remembered what she’d learned about Madsen that afternoon and pushed forward. “I think I understand more of what’s going on with the two of you now, though.”
“Meaning what?” Cunningham asked, his attention on his notes as if her opinion didn’t matter much.
“She told me about the attorney general and how Madsen ended up in Garrison. I bet that drives you crazy.” She smiled, hoping he’d soften into the Detective Cunningham she’d known that morning.
He looked at her with a steely gaze. “What really drives me crazy, Mrs. Hoffmiller, is when I give people the benefit of the doubt and they betray my trust. It not only impedes our investigative work but it makes me look very foolish.”
Sadie straightened in her chair and blinked. It didn’t seem as if she’d made much headway to the let’s-work-as-a-team option as she’d been vying for.
Cunningham leaned forward. “I responded to the call about Ron Bradley this afternoon at Baxter’s restaurant, but after talking to him, and being assured the man he assaulted didn’t want to file charges, I let him go because I had no other reason to detain him since I hadn’t yet talked to Susan Gimes.”
Sadie swallowed and berated herself for not coming clean sooner.
“Had I known all of this, I wouldn’t have let him leave. That means he’s still out there, on the street.”
“You think he did it?” Sadie asked, leaning forward. “You think he killed Anne?”
Cunningham let out a breath in frustration. “You do,” he said bluntly. “And the rest of the investigation is moving very slowly. It’s likely the best lead we’ve got—ten hours late.”
“I’m really sorry,” Sadie said, looking at the carpet beneath her feet. She thought about the intruder at Anne’s house this evening and felt even worse. Whoever it was wasn’t Ron, but how would she tell the detective that?
“Is there anything else you would like to tell me?” he asked.
“I got some papers at the library,” she said, standing slowly and heading to the computer desk where she’d left them. She picked up the papers and brought them to the detective. She sat down and waited until he had scanned each paper. “I also sent an e-mail to the human resources person at Riggs and Barker in Boston asking about Anne—that company is the same one Ron works for—and I thought maybe they would—”
“Yes, I know.”
Sadie gasped and Detective Cunningham looked up to meet her eye. “You seem to believe that while you’ve been looking for answers, we’ve been doing jumping jacks in our back office.” His voice was tight, his hazel eyes slightly narrowed. “But in fact we have been investigating this—and we spoke to the head of human resources at the Boston office this evening. When your e-mail came in she called us; it seemed suspicious to her in light of Anne’s death, which the entire office had already heard about. But we’d already let Mr. Bradley drive away from Baxter’s and he hasn’t gone back home. We have, as they say, lost him.”
“I—I’m so sorry,” Sadie repeated. Cunningham said nothing, but his expression showed his displeasure. Sadie cleared her throat, hating how uncomfortable all this had become. “I’m only trying to get answers,” she said lamely. “I’m not trying to get in the way.”
“Mrs. Hoffmiller,” Detective Cunningham said, sitting forward and stretching his back. She wondered if he was sore but doubted now would be a good time to offer him a massage, not to mention it was a rather forward thing to do seeing as they were alone. “An investigation is like a living thing, with rhythms and routines. In order for the police to be effective, we need people to not interfere with those rhythms. I understand that your intentions have not been malicious. But they are causing problems—do you understand that?”
Sadie nodded like a child receiving a reprimand. She pushed all thoughts of the calendar and book from her mind. He’d likely arrest her if she admitted to breaking into Anne’s house and taking the items. The guilt was overwhelming.
“Problems not only with this investigation, but with my partner.” He seemed to emphasize the last word and it confused her. She was certain that Detective Cunningham and Detective Madsen were pitted against each other. Detective Cunningham continued. “You witnessed something between Madsen and me this morning that you should never have seen. The irony is that you were at the root of it.”
“Since we first spoke to you, Detective Madsen felt you were, at best, a threat to our investigation, if not a suspect. I disagreed. Based on the reputation you have in this community, and the times that our public service has crossed paths, I brought you into this investigation and when Detective Madsen questioned my choices, I dismissed them as overly suspicious.”
Sadie tried to swallow the lump in her throat.
“However, it’s my job to be overly suspicious, and as Detective Madsen pointed out to our captain just a little while ago, I have not been doing my job. He was right.”
“Madsen set me up at the library,” Sadie added, but it was a weak argument. “He gave me the books then followed me and made all kinds of accusations when the library gave me some of Anne’s things.”
“As I said, he was doing his job. I am grateful for the help you have given us. But will you please stay out of this now?”
She nodded before considering whether or not she planned to stay out of it. But she hated that he was angry with her. She wanted to ask if they knew where Trevor was, if they had made any determinations about the cause of death, but she didn’t. He wouldn’t tell her anything now.
Detective Cunningham closed his notebook and slipped it in the inside pocket of his coat. “Is there somewhere you can stay tonight?” he asked. “Until we can bring Mr. Bradley in for questioning you shouldn’t be home alone.”
“I can probably stay with my sister-in-law,” Sadie said, though she really didn’t want to. Then again, she wanted to be home alone waiting for Ron even less.
“That would be a good idea,” Detective Cunningham said, standing and heading for the door. With his hand on the knob he turned to look at her. She stood and shifted her weight, hating the tension she had caused.
“I really am sorry,” she said again, promising herself right then that she wouldn’t keep anything else from him—and she’d think about how she could tell him about the second intruder without getting herself in more trouble.
“I’ll wait in my car until I see that you’re safely at your sister-in-law’s. And I still need to talk to Mr. Henry.”
“Do you want me to go with you? He might be more open . . . to a . . . familiar . . .” She let her words vaporize at Cun-ningham’s cold look and shuffled her feet clad in pink slippers. “Okay,” Sadie finally said, nodding.
She let him out and then called Carrie on the cordless phone, hating the pit in her stomach at having upset Detective Cunningham. He seemed like a really nice man. She only wished he’d try to understand her situation a little better. She couldn’t just do nothing. Carrie’s phone rang and rang. Sadie hung up and dialed again, certain they were home. She headed into the bedroom to get Anne’s book and calendar. Finally, on the sixth ring, a frazzled Jack answered the phone.
“Hello,” Jack said with impatience.
“Jack,” Sadie said, putting the book and calendar in the bottom of a small bag and covering them with her vitamins, slippers, and fingernail clippers. It was only overnight, but she’d hate to forget something. “It’s me. Can I stay there tonight?” She added an extra pair of socks, just in case, and a small first-aid kit—you never knew when it might come in handy—a shower cap, should she decide to take a shower in the morning, and her own towel.
Jack paused. “Stay here?” he repeated as if the words she’d used were long and hard to understand.
She realized she hadn’t told Jack anything about Ron. Did she dare tell him now? Did he already know? She was tired of keeping secrets. Taking a deep breath, she said, “The police are looking for Ron, to bring him in for questioning.” In her mind they would definitely arrest him and throw him in jail. “They don’t want me home alone.”
Jack was silent and Sadie waited for him to ask why the police were looking for Ron, but he didn’t. After a few seconds he spoke again. “I’m, uh, just leaving, but I’m sure Carrie would be glad for the company. I’ll be back later.”
“Okay, thanks,” she said, though she dreaded going to his house now more than ever. He must know about Ron. Otherwise he’d have asked more questions. Her heart sank as her earlier ponderings on who she could trust came blazing hot into her mind. She grabbed her bathrobe, some clean underwear, face cream, clear nail polish, and another pair of socks. “I’ll just be a couple minutes.”
“Make it at least ten,” Jack said. “We’re finishing up some . . . things. I’ll tell Carrie you’re coming.”
“Okay,” Sadie said, hoping she wasn’t interrupting some kind of reconciliation. “Ten minutes.”
When Sadie had locked her front door—after grabbing her pillow, her address book, and an extra pair of pajamas in case she spilled anything on the set she’d already packed and after securing all her windows and doors and turning out the lights—she hurried down the steps. The chill of the day had warmed some, despite how late it was and she wondered if that meant it might snow. If it had snowed last night there might have been footprints at Anne’s house. She’d seen a show where the police caught a bad guy by matching up his shoe tread. As she hurried along the sidewalk to Jack and Carrie’s she ignored Detective Cunningham’s car idling further down the circle and looked at the sky. It did look like snow and she wished she’d brought her coat and put some salt on the steps just in case. Jack’s truck was no longer in the driveway.
Carrie let her in and Sadie noticed she looked absolutely exhausted. Maybe she’d been right when she’d said that Sadie wasn’t the only one who’d had a difficult day. Or maybe she was sick.
“You can take the guest room downstairs,” Carrie said, turning toward the kitchen. “I was just straightening up, then I was going to get into a bath.”
“Thanks, I really appreciate you letting me stay,” Sadie said. A few months ago Carrie’s oldest daughter had surprised Carrie with a home makeover inspired by a community education class she’d taken on interior design. She’d repainted the living room in a shade called “Desert Rose.” Sadie thought it looked more like bologna left on the counter too long. But Carrie had liked it so Sadie had simply smiled and nodded. Paired with an old sage-green sofa set and several family portraits in mismatched frames, the room was really quite sickly looking. There was a fire in the fireplace, filling the room with heat too thick to be comfortable. Sadie was glad she didn’t have to sleep on the couch.
“So, Ron, huh?” Carrie said. She glanced up at Sadie quickly, then went back to straightening the counter in the kitchen.
Sadie wasn’t in the mood to talk about it anymore. “Yeah,” she said simply. “It’s been a long day.”
“Yes,” Carrie said slowly. She looked toward the kitchen window to her left and seemed distracted for a moment. But then she looked back and raised a hand to brush her recently dyed blonde hair from her face—the new color didn’t suit her fair complexion. She didn’t have any makeup on and looked rather washed out. She’d never put as much into her appearance and personal development as Sadie did, and it showed, though Sadie didn’t mean to judge her too harshly. To each her own.
Carrie said good night and turned toward her bedroom; Sadie took note of just how much weight her sister-in-law had lost. Daily gym visits had made quite a difference and Sadie wondered how much she planned to lose. Already she looked like the Carrie she’d been after just the first two girls, when she’d still been fairly active. Sadie also wondered, for the thousandth time, if there was any hope that Carrie and Jack could resolve their differences and try again. The fact that Jack had come over tonight was a good sign.
Sadie went downstairs. The guest room was painted stark white, and cluttered with mismatched leftover furniture pieces from the kids. A bookshelf had been painted a brilliant green, whereas a cast-off dresser was covered in bumper stickers with phrases like “Jimmy Buffett for President” and “Go Navy.” However, outside of looking like a pathetic secondhand store showroom, it was more comfortable than the meaty walls upstairs. As soon as the door was shut on the little room with a queen bed and an old quilt Sadie’s mother had sewed decades earlier, she opened her overnight bag and pulled out the book she’d taken from Anne’s bookshelf, My Father’s Eyes.
Even in full light Sadie couldn’t read the back cover. It took her a moment to find her reading glasses in her bag, next to her cough medicine, and try again. She sat back against the headboard, pulling the quilt over her legs—it was chilly down here. The back cover seemed to be an excerpt from the book.
“You’re ending this?” Marci said, her heart seizing in her chest as she placed a hand on her belly, pregnant with the life their love had created. “What about our family? What about me?”
“I’m sorry,” he said with tears in his dark brown eyes. He reached out and pulled her against his chest one last time and she thought about how much she’d miss his tight embrace. Memories of their nights together washed over her like ocean waves intent to drown her in their depths. “I love you,” he continued, “and you’ve given me more joy and passion than any other woman ever could. But she’s got money, Marci, and an impeccable reputation that can further my career. At least this way I can support you—and our child. What else can I do?”
But Marci’s heart would not be denied. How could she convince the man she loved, the man she’d given her heart to, that being his mistress wasn’t enough for her? She would stop at nothing to prove to him she was all he’d ever wanted. Her daughter would know who her Daddy was—and they’d live happily ever after . . . one way or another.
Sadie’s eyebrows went up and she read the pathetic excerpt again. She turned the book over and looked at the cover. It was a picture of a man, an older man judging by his gray hair even though he was built like a teenage lifeguard. He gazed into the adoring eyes of a young woman holding a child.
“Oh my goodness,” she breathed as several pieces fell into place and the significance of this particular book became apparent. “Anne, what did you do?”
It was almost 1:00 am when Sadie finished the book. She stared at the final page for nearly a minute.
Sadie could hardly believe it, but it was there—in black ink on mass-market paperback pages, riddled with dangling participles, an obnoxious indulgence in adverbs, and sappy descriptions.
In the story, the character Marci had a two-year affair with a man who’d been engaged to another woman. When she became pregnant he refused to call off the wedding. So a few months after the baby was born and the man was married, Marci moved to his hometown. Everything other than the marriage fit—even down to Anne’s friendship with Sadie, who seemed to be the substitute for the fiancée-turned-wife character in the book. In the story, the wife—who was in her forties—befriended the much younger mistress, who then learned all the details of taking care of the man she loved.
But Anne had died before her story finished. In the novel, the man eventually realized he couldn’t live without her, but only after she’d proven herself capable and determined to have him in her life. He eventually left his wife and came to the mistress, promising a lifetime of love and devotion to her and her alone. Because of community property laws, when he divorced his rich wife, he also got half her fortune. Sadie was sure that would never hold up in real life, not when he was such a scoundrel, but that was romance novels for you.
As far as story lines went it was weak, immoral, and in Sadie’s mind, completely ridiculous. But obviously Anne had seen something of merit in it. Enough that she’d lived it—even used it as a blueprint. She’d tried to resurrect the copy of the book that had been ruined, and when that didn’t work, she’d stolen another copy. Sadie felt sick to her stomach at how orchestrated it all had been.
All this time she’d been some pawn in Anne’s game to get Ron? Or had Ron gone along with it like the man in the book? Maybe it was even his idea. And Sadie was stupid enough not to notice. She heard the front door shut upstairs. Was it Jack? Footsteps crossed the floor above her head and then stopped. She listened for a few more seconds but heard nothing but voices muted by the floorboards above her.
Sadie hadn’t left the room since opening the book, and hadn’t eaten since Breanna’s Alfredo in the early evening. Throwing back the covers, she changed into her pajamas, robe, and slippers before heading upstairs in search of something to eat—a glass of milk if nothing else. But she also tried to think of what she could say to Jack. She had to know if he had been in on Ron’s deception, if he’d been keeping it from her too. The imagined heartbreak of his treachery was almost too much to bear. As she reached the top of the basement stairs she realized what she really wanted was some sympathy, some understanding. Jack was her brother, he’d always taken care of her and she longed to have him pull her into his arms, smooth her hair, and say “Ah, Sadie-Sadie, I’m so sorry.”
When she reached the kitchen she could hear Jack and Carrie’s voices, only whispers, but they were arguing, which made her hesitant to interrupt and somewhat irritated that her opportunity for comfort wasn’t going to happen as she’d hoped. She considered returning downstairs but she was so close to food—not to mention her insatiable curiosity as to what they were arguing about. She wondered if they were rehashing Jack’s decision to send Trina back to school that evening. Carrie had wanted her to stay, but Sadie mentally sided with Jack on this one, even if he was possibly a secret-keeping louse of a brother. She tiptoed into the kitchen, scanning the countertops for something edible. It was dark except for the light above the sink that cast just enough light for Sadie to see around the room.
She spied her pan of brownies, half gone, and her mouth began to water. She moved as quietly as she could and put two brownies on a napkin before tiptoeing to the fridge. She couldn’t have brownies without milk.
“I know,” she heard Jack say in a louder voice. She stopped and leaned closer toward the door. What did he know?
Carrie said something in reply but she whispered and Sadie couldn’t make it out. She took another step closer to the kitchen doorway. When Jack spoke again his voice was softer, but she made out the word “Sorry.”
It annoyed her that Jack would give into whatever it was Carrie was haranguing him about. Couldn’t she see that the fact that he was here meant they had a chance to make things better with their relationship? Sadie took another step and the floorboards creaked under her foot. The voices stopped and she hurried across the kitchen as the door to the master bedroom opened. The family calendar was tacked on the wall next to the sink and she pretended to be absorbed in the comings and goings of her sister-in-law. There were work hours written on the last week, and for the next two weeks, bringing to mind the fact that Carrie hadn’t gone to work even though the schedule still seemed in place. She also noticed that Trina had had an appointment on Monday—but didn’t she have school that day? Sadie’s back was facing the doorway when she heard someone enter the kitchen.
“You’re up,” Jack said.
Sadie turned to look at him, raising her eyebrows as if surprised he was there. She busied herself by getting a third brownie even though she couldn’t possibly eat that many. She still hadn’t gotten any milk. “I’m sorry, I’m just starved. I’m going back down.” She met his eyes again and opened her mouth to ask about Ron, but the words abruptly congealed in her throat.
Jack wasn’t dressed for bed. He still wore his work clothes and she suddenly felt dizzy. The house was dark, but the light above the sink glinted off his wedding band—just inches below the blue cuff of his dress shirt.
The brownies fell to the floor and she just stood there while Jack moved forward to pick them up. They’d landed facedown, but he put them back on the napkin and stood. “Ten-second rule,” he said, with the hint of a smile on his otherwise sad face.
Sadie stared at him. It was Jack! He had been at Anne’s house. She couldn’t breathe and didn’t know what to say. He handed her the brownies and she took them and pulled them to her chest, crushing them in her napkin.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
In her mind she was talking herself out of it. It couldn’t be. Why would Jack go to Anne’s house? Why would he have a key? She looked into his eyes. “Jack?” she asked. Other thoughts and details tried to push their way into her mind, but she refused them, overcome by her unexpected realization.
“What?” he countered.
“I—” She paused and looked back at his hand. “I didn’t know you still wore your wedding ring.”
He looked down at his hand but he said nothing. After a few more seconds of silence, he headed for the front door.
“Where are you going?” she asked, taking two steps toward him.
“Sadie,” he said quietly, now too far away for her to see his expression as he turned to face her. “Ron’s a good man and I know he truly cares about you. I know no one understands this, but I never stopped loving Carrie.”
Sadie didn’t know how long she stood there before she heard footsteps in the hall. Carrie stood in the doorway of the kitchen and Sadie looked at her. “What’s going on?” Sadie asked.
“Nothing to concern yourself with,” Carrie said in a voice far too calm for what Sadie had just heard. “Go back to bed, Sadie. Things will be better in the morning.” She turned and went back to her room.
Sadie stayed rooted to her place in the middle of the kitchen, brownies in hand. Did Carrie know? But she couldn’t mentally go down that path for long before bigger thoughts yanked her mind back to her brother. She couldn’t ignore it any longer. Could Jack be Trevor’s father?
Sadie refused to accept it. She had misunderstood. She was putting together clues in the wrong order. Jack was helping Ron. That had to be it. That’s all he was doing, all he had done. But what did that have to do with never having stopped loving Carrie?
Almost trancelike she went back downstairs, put the brownies on the dresser, turned off the lights, and climbed into bed. She stared at the darkened ceiling with the covers pulled up to her chin. She was awake when dawn inched its way into her room, that is, if she ever slept—she wasn’t sure. She hadn’t had such a horrible night’s sleep since the first few weeks after Neil’s death. Why couldn’t Neil be here now? Even after nineteen years she missed him most when she had big decisions to make. How she had loved to ask his opinion over biscuits and gravy, just talk about life, and have someone to line her thoughts up with.
Since Ron had entered her life it hadn’t hurt so bad to be alone, but right now she ached for the man she’d loved so much, the father of her children, the person she had trusted most in the whole world. She dressed slowly in the clothes she had packed the night before, listening for any sounds of movement upstairs. It was silent. She padded up the stairs, anxious to get back home. Maybe things would make more sense over there.
Carrie was still asleep or gone—either way Sadie was relieved not to have to talk to her. She was sick over the thoughts still coursing through her mind. The living room windows revealed that, just as she’d expected, the mildness of yesterday had given way to a flurry of snow and wind. She scowled, remembering she hadn’t brought a coat. She’d packed everything else. She wrote a quick note, thanking Carrie for letting her stay and put it on the kitchen counter.
At the front door she took a deep breath, pulled her bag close to her chest and hurried out into the blizzard-like conditions. She didn’t look at the other houses in the circle, she didn’t see if there were any cars at Anne’s. She didn’t want to know. All this meddling had left her sick to her stomach.
It felt good to be home, but the pit in her stomach was still there. She brushed the snow from her hair, knowing it was frizzed out and horrid-looking now that she’d slept on it. She vowed to style it later and then went about making herself some hot cocoa, still processing everything she’d heard last night.
Jack’s words, “I never stopped loving Carrie,” rang through her ears and she shuddered. There was no way Jack could be the one! And yet, Jack had been the intruder at Anne’s house last night. He must have come from the back field. She’d seen his truck leave when she was hiding in the vacant lot. He must have gone to the far end of the fields and walked up from the back, waiting for the police to go by just like she had. And then he’d driven back to the house a few minutes later. Could he have done the same thing the night before? Could he have killed Anne?
“Slow down,” she told herself. Then she grabbed a pad of paper and started making a list of everything she learned yesterday—and what was left to be followed up on. When she finished she had a whole list of things she could look into. Only now, she wasn’t looking for proof it was Ron, she was looking for proof it wasn’t Jack. And Trevor. Her stomach clenched like a fist. Where on earth was Trevor? It had been twenty-four hours.
She was still looking at the list, trying to think of anything she’d missed, when the phone rang, making her jump. She took a deep breath and read the caller ID. It was a blocked number. Did she dare answer it?
Unfortunately, she didn’t know what else she had to lose.
“Mrs. Hoffmiller?” Detective Cunningham said into the phone.
“Could you come down to the station? We have some questions and we need to ask you for an official statement.”
Sadie nodded, even though he couldn’t see her, but her stomach sank. They’d never asked her to come into the station for questions and it validated the changes that had taken place since yesterday. Everything was worse now. “I’ll be right there,” she said. “Is there any particular reason I’m coming down?”
“We have the coroner report back from the autopsy, and you were right about the time cook on the oven. Anne was killed sometime between 2:00 and 5:00 am. And the body was moved. We need to ask some specific questions in regards to some other things we found . . . and we’ve . . . had a confession.”
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